It’s strange to think about now, but until the 1920s, you didn’t generally need a passport to travel. A smart CEO I know recently mentioned this to me in the context of what’s happening to the internet. The idea of making citizens carry documents to promote border security, he said, dates only to the aftermath of World War I.
The online world is much younger than the offline one, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that it is generally a much freer place to travel. There are places you can’t easily get to, such as the so-called dark web; and places you can’t easily travel the internet from, such as North Korea. Generally, though, anyone with internet access has historically been able to access the vast majority of it.
Reading today’s news about the European Union’s passage of the Copyright Directive, though, I wondered whether we would all soon need passports as we travel around the web. The internet had previously been divided into two: the open web, which most of the world could access; and the authoritarian web of countries like China, which is parceled out stingily and heavily monitored.
As of today, though, the web no longer feels truly worldwide. Instead we now have the American internet, the authoritarian internet, and the European internet. How does the EU Copyright Directive change our understanding of the web? James Vincent describes its changes, which still must be implemented by individual countries, in The Verge:
Despite setbacks, the most controversial clauses of the Copyright Directive — Article 11 or the ‘link tax’ and Article 13 — have remained pretty much intact.
Article 11 lets publishers charge platforms like Google News when they display snippets of news stories, while Article 13 (renamed Article 17 in the most recent draft of the legislation) gives sites like YouTube new duties to stop users from uploading copyrighted content.
In both cases, critics say these well-intentioned laws will lead to trouble. Article 13, they say, will lead to the widespread introduction of “upload filter,” that will scan all user content uploaded to sites to remove copyrighted material. The law does not explicitly call for such filters, but critics say it will be an inevitability as sites seek to avoid penalties.
Assuming this law is implemented, Google may choose to shut down Google News in Europe. (It pulled out of Spain in 2014 after that country implemented a similar rule around displaying snippets of text.) Google has said it could follow suit across Europe, and other companies could follow. If Google has to pay to effectively quote news stories, what other websites might face similar restrictions? It’s easy to imagine a chilling effect across the entire internet.
The “upload filter” Vincent mentions would have a similar — and dire — chilling effect on sites like YouTube. The company famously played fast and loose with copyright during its early days, and Europe apparently has a long memory. YouTube has lobbied vigorously against the law, and galvanized impressive popular support in Europe, as Karl Bode noted in Motherboard:
More than 200,000 Europeans took to the streets to protest the proposal last weekend, and an online petition calling for the removal of the most controversial parts of the proposal has received more than 5 million signatures.
But a majority of European lawmakers signed the bill into law anyway, and it’s now quite unclear how YouTube and other sites that host audio and video will operate in a world where it has to use copyright law aggressively against its user base.
At the moment, the defining feature of the European internet might be uncertainty. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which lobbied against the bill, is predicting disaster. EFF’s Danny O’Brien writes:
We can expect media and rightsholders to lobby for the most draconian possible national laws, then promptly march to the courts to extract fines whenever anyone online wanders over its fuzzy lines. The Directive is written so that any owner of copyrighted material can demand satisfaction from an Internet service, and we’ve already seen that the rightsholders are by no means united on what Big Tech should be doing. Whatever Internet companies and organizations do to comply with twenty-seven or more national laws – from dropping links to European news sites entirely, to upping their already over-sensitive filtering systems, or seeking to strike deals with key media conglomerates – will be challenged by one rightsholder faction or another.
But there’s also opportunities for the courts to rein in the Directive – or even throw out its worst articles entirely. One key paradox at the heart of the Directive will have to be resolved very soon. Article 13 is meant to be compatible with the older E-Commerce Directive, which explicitly forbids any requirement to proactively monitor for IP enforcement (a provision that was upheld and strengthened by the ECJ in 2011). Any law mandating filters could be challenged to settle this inconsistency.
Perhaps the big platforms will feel so motivated to preserve their European user bases that they will indeed negotiate the deals necessary to keep their existing services operating basically as is. But it’s just as easy to imagine them scaling back their services, as Google has already done, and further divide the internet into zones. If it goes far enough, the entire internet may begin to feel like Netflix, whose library of content varies dramatically depending on which country you log on from.
I tend to favor more regulation of the internet than we have gotten so far in the United States. But the Copyright Directive helps illustrate at least one reason why we Americans have defaulted to doing nothing: it’s very hard to use regulation to achieve specific outcomes, and the devil will always be in the details. The conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley is to oppose regulation out of the fear that it will simply strengthen incumbents — and looking at the expensive and technically difficult new requirements that the directive places on would-be challengers, this is one case where the conventional wisdom appears to be exactly right.
For those of us looking for a check on tech giants’ power, Europe has generally been an ally. Its understanding of antitrust as an issue of competition rather than pricinghas galvanized an important discussion here in the United States. More recently, the General Data Protection Regulation, for all of its own flaws and incumbent-strengthening properties, has inspired valuable copycat legislation in California and other states. Among other things, Europe has helped to enshrine the basic principle that people ought to be able to see what data is being collected about them.
But this latest effort is hamfisted in the extreme, and may have the effect of splintering the internet beyond what seemed possible even a few years ago. In the wake of GDPR’s passage, Europeans couldn’t visit the websites of some US publishers for months as new privacy frameworks were put into place. That sort of thing may be about to become a lot more common. The time has now come to speak of the internets, plural. And to get around, you might just need a passport.
The president’s lawyers were back in court today arguing that he should be able to block whoever he wants, even though he uses the account to make official proclamations. The plaintiffs won the original case, but it’s in appeals now.
Brian Schwartz reports that Facebook’s former security chief, Alex Stamos, is helping candidates with their campaign security. The help is much needed:
Former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos has already given some advice to 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns, he told CNBC via email: Lock down your campaign staff’s identities and use a professional service to manage data on cloud servers. Build security from the ground up, he suggested, and don’t give too many team members access to deeper technology operations.
“I fully expect U.S. adversaries to get involved in the primary, and one way to do so would be via stealing email, internal documents or spying on confidential communications,” Stamos said. “I’ve been trying to be helpful to multiple Democratic campaigns, and right now my focus is on helping them get their campaign technology stacks set up in a secure manner.”
DFRLab takes a detailed look at the day’s big takedown of coordinated inauthentic behavior, focused on what appears to be a state-backed effort to promote the Iranian government. More than 500 pages groups and accounts were removed as part of what the lab calls a “pro-Iranian propaganda network,” which targeted the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. Russian propaganda was also discovered as part of the attack, as Facebook recounts in its own blog post on the subject.
This is wild — and welcome, I think? — news. Sara Fischer reports on a Google-backed effort to directly fund new journalism in three mid-sized American cities:
The first effort within the new Local Experiments Project will be ‘The Compass Experiment,“ which is a partnership between Google and McClatchy to launch three new, digital-only local news operations on multiple platforms.
McClatchy will maintain sole editorial control and ownership of the sites and Google will have no input or involvement in any editorial efforts or decision making.
Matt Drange profiles new U.S. Attorney David Anderson, who just took over the San Francisco office:
Since stepping into the role in January, Mr. Anderson has created a “strike force” of skilled prosecutors focused on big white collar cases. He said last week he also plans to rely more heavily on law enforcement tools not traditionally associated with white collar prosecution, such as wiretaps, search warrants and grand jury testimony introduced earlier on in a case.
The moves represent a significant departure for the office, which has a weak track record of rooting out financial wrongdoing in and around Silicon Valley, said former prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Russell Brandon examines how Apple has positioned itself as a privacy-minded alternative to Google and Facebook:
In streaming and digital payments, Apple is competing against a generation of tech companies that are all deeply influenced by Jobs and the iPhone. A good sense of design and software ecosystems are table stakes but not enough to give them an edge against Google and Facebook. Apple’s edge is that, unlike those giants, it doesn’t sell targeted ads, and it doesn’t collect and distribute the massive amounts of personal data associated with that. Given the choice, Apple is guessing you’ll want the digital wallet without the billion-dollar ad business attached. In that way of thinking, online services compete on trust, and Apple is pitching itself as a privacy provider.
In the wake of the Christchurch attack, John Herrman explores the internet’s surprising appetite for death footage:
Experts almost universally advise against casting the consumption of violent footage as a fringe phenomenon. Jennifer Malkowski, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Smith College, who uses they/them pronouns and is the author of “Dying in Full Detail: Mortality and Digital Documentary,” pointed out that Liveleak, which is just one of many sources for such footage, is ranked by the web tracking firm Alexa as the 695th biggest site in the world, right alongside The Onion, Jezebel, and Forever21. Mainstream internet platforms have thrown vast amounts of money and labor (much of it invisible) at removing nightmarish content, hiring thousands of content moderators to identify and remove often traumatic and illegal content. But “they’re circulated by many many people,” they said. “I think when you see those numbers from Facebook, you’re confronted with that reality.”
“You realize that these videos aren’t circulated by a few maladjusted individuals,” they added.
Robert McMillan profiles Fredrick Brennan, who founded 8chan as a bastion of free speech and now has a lot of justified regrets. Among other things, the New Zealand shooter announced his attack on 8Chan:
Mr. Brennan describes himself as a lapsed libertarian with no fixed ideology. But he believes that there is no way to stop the toxic speech that has come to define the site without reshaping the internet more broadly. For that to happen, he says, the internet as a whole needs “to be totally redesigned and re-engineered with more censorship in mind.”
Mr. Brennan says he places some of the responsibility for the way 8chan was used to publicize the attack with Mr. Watkins and the current administrators, who he blames for being slow to remove Mr. Tarrant’s alleged posts and other posts on the message boards that are inciting violence. Nevertheless, he said, he was saddened to see the tragedy in New Zealand associated with something he created.
Ashley Carman reports on a new twist in the Tinder legal drama:
Tinder co-founder and former CEO Sean Rad has asked the New York Supreme Court to dismiss a $250 million lawsuit against him by Match Group and IAC, the owners of Tinder. Match claims that Rad copied internal files and proprietary information before he left the company, violating his employment contract. In his motion to dismiss, however, Rad says the contract gave him the right to back up internal emails and hold on to those correspondences even after his tenure at Tinder ended.
Match’s claims are meant to counter a multibillion-dollar lawsuit from Rad. In August 2018, Rad and other former Tinder employees sued Match Group and IAC over claims that the company purposefully undervalued Tinder to avoid having to pay the team billions more in equity. Now Match is countersuing — thanks to the initial lawsuit, which revealed that Rad had hung onto these disputed internal documents.
Chris Welch reports on a fight between the BBC and Google over podcast access. The fight appears to be about Google’s unwillingness to share user data back to the broadcaster, he says.
The BBC has removed its podcasts from the Google Podcasts app and is also making them inaccessible to Google Assistant — and by extension, Google Home speakers. The broadcaster published a blog post taking issue with Google’s tendency to steer users who search for a podcast toward its own app “rather than BBC Sounds or other third-party services.” (The BBC Sounds app is unavailable outside the UK.)
Kieran Clifton, the BBC’s director of distribution and business development, said the public service company is “not comfortable” with Google reducing a listener’s choice in this way and has expressed those concerns to Google directly. “We asked them to exclude the BBC from this specific feature but they have refused,” Clifton said. “We don’t like removing our content from services and certainly don’t do it lightly — but unfortunately until Google changes the way they look at this, for the good of listeners, our podcasts will not be available on some of their services.”
If you’ve ever sent someone a message and wished you could delete it before they read it — and boy, have I! — Telegram now has you covered. You can also delete other people’s messages to you, without their permission. There are definitely trade-offs here around harassment, but I think it’s a bold idea and it speaks to the value of having competition in the marketplace for messaging apps:
As of the latest version of Telegram — available on iOS, Android, and via a web client — you can now delete messages for all participants in your chats, irrespective of who sent them or when they were sent. Previously, Telegram allowed users a 48-hour window in which they could delete their own sent messages, both on their device and for others. Now, the time limit has been dropped, and you can wipe an entire chat history clean on your device and on anyone else’s who was part of the chat.
Joshua Benton has a great deep dive on the Apple News+ user experience, which is surprisingly reliant on PDFs and does not include much of the digital-only content that magazines are now using to distinguish themselves day to day. It’s hard to see News+ breaking out of its niche with a product like this:
It’s actually a little hard to even find L.A. Times and Journal content in Apple News Plus because they don’t fit into the magazine UX it’s dependent on. Tap “Browse the Catalog” in Plus and you can scroll all day, but you’ll never find either paper, because they’re not contained in “issues.” Want to see some Journal stories? Head to the Plus tab, scroll past the nav buttons, past the “My Magazines” carousel, past the “First Look” section, past a curated sports section called “Keeping Score,” and you’ll see four Journal stories. Tap on one of them, then tap on the logo at the top of the article page, and you’re finally at the Journal “built-in subscription” you paid for.
And the L.A. Times? Scroll past everything you saw on your way to the Journal, then a “New Issue” module, then a “Queens of Comedy” feature on Amy Pohler and Maya Rudolph, then a “Health” section, then “Inside Politics,” then “Breakthroughs,” and then you’ll see “From the L.A. Times.” (As I type this, the most recent story listed is 15 hours old.) Tap an article, tap the logo at the top of the article page, and you’re there.
Josh Constine says Facebook should be spending for big money premium video, like their friends at Apple are now doing:
Tim Cook wrote lines of zeros on some checks, and suddenly Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Oprah became the well-known faces of Apple TV+.
Facebook Watch has…MTV’s The Real World? The other Olsen sister? Re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Actually, Facebook Watch is dominated by the kind of low-quality viral video memes the social network announced it would kick out of its News Feed for wasting people’s time.
And finally ...
This is just a tweet that made me laugh:
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your amendments for the Copyright Directive: firstname.lastname@example.org.